Erick Schonfeld at TechCrunch reports on Google's presentation today at Web 2.0 Conference. Jeff Huber of Google, trying to slam Facebook and MySpace, said "A lot that you have heard here is about platforms and who is going to win. That is Paleolithic thinking. The Web has already won. The web is the Platform. So let’s go build the programmable Web."
I was rather surprised, because I heard that same line just two days ago, from Dare Obasanjo. Jeff apparently reads Dare's blog, and was in a hurry to prepare his speech.
Now, I think that both are saying vaguely what I was saying when I said that "data is the new platform". But I meant this is the sense of "black is the new white" -- data has replaced platform as the high-order bit. Jeff, on the other hand, seems to be saying "the web is THE platform"; a statement which is almost opposite in intent to what I was saying, and which reinforces the whole paleolithic platform thinking.
But the real problem I have with Jeff's statement is that it makes no sense. I get the feeling that he doesn't mean what the rest of us would mean if we said "the web is the platform"; or perhaps he was simply making a broad idealistic statement without worrying about how (in)consistent it was with his subject matter. Let's think this through...
When I hear someone talk about the web as a platform, I have a pretty clear picture:
- Utilizes open standards, preferably mature specifications and preferably from W3C
- Utilizes web client runtime that has massive deployment; depends only on functionality that can be found in the majority of browsers
- Runs the same no matter who is hosting the code
This is non-negotiable! When any normal person writes "for the web", this is what she means! She wants her code to be able to run on as many machines as possible without getting locked in anyone's trunk.
So how does this stack up to the topic of Jeff's talk? He was talking directly about gadgets, and by referring to Facebook and MySpace, indirectly about social graph. Pray tell, how on earth does "the web platform" handle these issues:
- In what way do Facebook and MySpace NOT use the web platform? Last I checked, Facebook's platform uses all of the appropriate web standards and invents practically nothing unnecessarily proprietary. Last I checked, Facebook and MySpace ran just great on a wide range of web browsers.
- Where is the W3C specification for gadgets interop? Can I drag-and-drop Google gadgets onto Yahoo! or vice-versa? Google may have A gadgets platform, but it sure as heck isn't THE platform or THE web.
- Where is the W3C specification for social network interop? Is there ANY widely-adopted precedent for allowing Google's Orkut data to flow to LinkedIn? Every attempt at creating new web-standard ways of representing social networks (FOAF, XFN, etc.) has failed, and Google doesn't use any of them anyway. How is Google less proprietary than everyone else at this point?
To be fair, I do believe that "the web is THE platform", but I think Google is being a bit disingenuous by trotting out the aphorism in this context. The web is the platform upon which many different and incompatible data gardens will do battle. There WILL be fights, winners and losers, and this will happen BECAUSE the web is the platform. If anyone is really serious about reducing the bloodshed and adhering to the spirit of the web, they should put their money where their mouths are and let loose some of the control from their own walled gardens and incompatible schemas.